The name David S. Goyer is one that should be familiar to comic book fans and comic book movie fans. A frequent writer of comics, Goyer has also written or co-written several of the screenplays for major films, from the Blade series, to Batman Begins to Man of Steel. The Invisible, however, is a film he directed, but did not write — it’s an adaptation of a 2002 Swedish film (this version was released five years later). It’s not a superhero film but is still on the supernatural side of things — just more on the side of “ghost story” than “heroics”. In fact, its protagonist is effectively powerless.
Nick Powell (Justin Chatwin) is a fairly typical bright high school student on the verge of graduation. He has an overbearing widowed mother, played by Marcia Gay Harden, and he wants to go to London on a writing scholarship to work on his poetry. Bighearted and noble, he interferes when a local bully troubles his friend and gets on her bad side. The bully, played by Margarita Levieva, is a petty criminal with a wild side and when she gets caught with stolen jewelry, she assumes it’s Nick who turned her in. She and a few of her followers proceed to track him down one night and beat him to death.
We’re then treated to watching Nick’s ghost flit around his town trying to get someone to track down his body and solve the crime. There’s a somewhat interesting twist here, in that Nick is not merely invisible and inaudible to the world of the living, he has no apparent ability to affect it at all. The interesting thing about it is the way this is portrayed. When Nick tries to move something, he doesn’t merely fail at it — he succeeds. But then reality immediately snaps back and it’s as if nothing was done, as if he had hallucinated the entire thing. It provides for some interesting visuals, while at the same time depicting Nick’s frustration as he’s forced to watch the investigation crawl along.
The problem is that stories don’t just need conflict, they need conflict resolution — and for most of the film, the audience does not receive any measure of that. The investigation doesn’t make any progress to speak of for about 90% of the film. That end of things is necessarily tedious to watch given the utter lack of payoff, especially since we already know everything that happened. Further, the adventures of ghost-Nick aren’t terribly interesting on their own. He’s self-centered, conceited, and whiny (about more than his death, which I’ll admit would be justifiable). His poetry is terrible, his sarcasm is overwrought, and he has to be beaten over the head with his mother’s grief before he acknowledges that she’s a human being as well. And since he has to be beaten over the head with it, so must the audience, and we are similarly subjected to the “she’s a decent person underneath it all” plotline with the would-be murderess. On the one side, we have an angstsy poetry-writing “genius” teen with a widowed control-freak mother. On the other side, we have a poor misunderstood violent girl with a widowed abusive father, abusive step-mother, and a kid brother who is the only thing she cares about. Although it was a theatrical release, the film has several tick marks on the “made for Lifetime” checklist.
Everything is put together competently — there really isn’t any bad acting or poor direction — but the plot writing just doesn’t appeal.